Widgets The Good Place (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and writing)

"Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. - Benedict Spinoza."

Core ideas, American Governance
     What is essential?


  1. Popular sovereignty (consent of the governed)
  2. Free and fair elections
  3. Comprehensive eligibility to vote and campaign
  4. Freedom to participate politically for personal and common interests
  5. Majority rule for the common good


  1. Law-based authority in the government, society, and economy
  2. Government limited and empowered to establish justice and maintain order
  3. Equality, liberty, and justice under law
  4. Separation and sharing of power as means to limited government


  1. Natural rights and constitutional rights
  2. Political or public rights
  3. Personal or private rights
  4. Individual and collective rights


  1. Membership in a people based on legal citizenship
  2. Rights, responsibilities and roles of citizens
  3. Civic identity
  4. Means and ends of political and civic participation


  1. Membership in voluntary associations
  2. Freedom of association and assemblly
  3. Pluralism, multiple and overlapping group memberships
  4. Social regulation for the common good (rule of law, traditions, spontaneous order, mores)


  1. Freedom of exchange and economic choice through the market
  2. Protection of private property rights
  3. Freedom to own and use property for personal choices and the public good
  4. Economic regulation for the common good
  5. Free and open economic system

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2006 Michael L. Umphrey

Staying together
     Generational succession and personal identity

The story of Chief Charlo, hanging on in the Bitterroot after many Salish had moved north to the Flathead Reservation, is poignant in a way that life is often poignant. What is sadder than to lose the homeland of one’s youth and to have the world change around one so dramatcally that one’s grandchildren speak a different language?

Of course, most of us lose the homelands of our childhood--that we can’t go home again is a common lament. And I’ve worked with many adolescents who spoke a language in many ways unrecognizable by their parents and grandparents. We live in times of ongoing cultural change, and in such times succeeding generations may come to consciousness in a narrative environment quite different from that their parents grew up in. Under such circumstances, it would be startling if they did not develop values quite different from those of their elders. Something akin to Charlo’s sadness would seem to be a common plight.

And yet, it is not necessary that the generations become estranged. The “generation gap” that so mesmerized observers during the sixties is not a fact of nature so much as a failure of culture. Thinking of education not as the transmission of information and skills in a classroom but as the way a culture is passed on, a question that becomes important is what sort of education is needed if parents and their children are to recognize each other fully enough to share the deepest meanings in life? Clearly, it will be an education that resists some kinds of change, focusing instead on continuities. As many Native American have recognized, it will be an education more concerned with culture than with information. Daniele Conversi argues that a culture that is not transmitted from one generation to the next should not be considered a culture at all:

Despite a proliferation of writings on culture, ...[it] remains one of the most difficult concepts to grasp and define in the social sciences. Already by the 1950s the US anthropologists Alfred Louis Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn were able to identify over 100 competing definitions of ‘culture’.

The rise of cultural studies as a self-standing discipline in the 1960s should have in principle contributed to clarify this conundrum, having elected it as its central topic of investigation. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Despite its promising beginnings under the brilliant stewardship of Richard Hoggart and others (Sardar and Van Loon 1998), the disarray has progressively amplified, degenerating into conceptual chaos and turning cultural studies into one of the most confused and confusing disciplines on earth. Instead of being rigorously defined, the concept of culture has become so flexible and muddled as to include virtually every aspect and form of human behaviour. ‘Culture’ has therefore fragmented into its constituent parts, an amalgam of infinite particles now dissolving into idiosyncratic chaos. At the moment, everything can become ‘culture’ from ‘youth culture’ to ‘drug culture’, from ‘consumer culture’ to pop culture, ‘yob’ culture, hooligan culture, and, perhaps a short step from hooliganism, animals’ culture. Yet, all of these ‘cultures’ fall short of the main distinguishing criterion, inter-generational continuity. There is currently an urgent need to go back to the concept of culture in its original meaning of cultivating and hence nourishing. Culture should be linked to material, rather than biological, inheritance. In short, a sense of continuity is inseparable from culture, hence culture can only exist if it is transmitted through generations.  (Daniele Conversi, “Can Nationalism Studies and Ethnic/racial Studies Be Brought Together?” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. Volume: 30. Issue: 4. Page 815. (c) 2004

Questions of cultural continuity will be easier to discuss within families than they will be to discuss at school. It is quite proper that families and communities entertain the apostles of change who speak from the schools with the moral fervor of revolutionaries with a bit of skepticism. While it’s true that each new generation needs to creatively adopt their culture to a changing world, if the passion for change isn’t judiciously tempered by a fondness for ways and means of proven value, we risk trading our birthright for a gaggle of gadgets.

In her study of Korean Christians in Chicago, Kelly Chong found that a significant way that second generation Koreans kept their cultural identity was through

certain elements of ‘practiced culture,’ that is, values and standards of traditional Korean morality. These values, ubiquitously invoked in their discourse about their Korean identity, consist of a set of core traditional Korean Confucian values—most significantly, filial piety, respect for parents, family-centeredness, and work ethic.

Whereas non-church goers tend to speak more about “making decisions for oneself” rather than obeying parents, the young adults who attend church say they prefer the clear rules, and “traditional Korean views regarding sexual morality and gender relations.” It is more through moral values than general aspects of culture such a food and music that a “powerful sense of group consciousness and boundary is forged among the second generation.”

Those who chose to stay in the church sometimes see the individual liberty of the surrounding society as contributing to the dissolution of culture and of togetherness. One member described it thus:

There are many truths in the American society. Because of that, there is no value system. Everything and anything is permissible. So we lose common dignity, respect, and people end up getting absorbed in their own little worlds. People used to live by Christian virtues, knew definite right or wrong. Now, kids are being killed, and are killing their parents. All because the parents don’t have any values to give them. People are encouraged to be open-minded so they lose definition. Koreans have a better value system, like the way Christianity used to be.

Various scholars have noted that the strengths and vitality of contemporary evangelicalism can be attributed to its “strictness,” which confers strong social bonds and cohesion among the church members ( Kelley, D. M. 1972 . Why conservative churches are growing. New York: Harper and Row.; Iannaccone, L. R. 1994 . “Why strict churches are strong”. American Journal of Sociology 99: 11801211.). It is my contention that Christian conservatism, both through its peculiar resonance with traditional Korean values and its ability to help articulate a clear sense of group boundary and identity, is crucial to the ethnic project of the Korean church regarding the second generation. The conservative Protestant ideology of the Korean church, through its reference to the unchanging, divine laws which dictate standards of strict ethics and morality for the members of the group, has proven quite effective as a form of legitimation for strict, exclusive ethnic group identity in the secondgeneration church members. In contrast, scholars such as Steve Bruce (Bruce, S. 1983 . “Identifying conservative Protestantism”. Sociological Analysis 44: 65-69.) have remarked on the relative ineffectiveness of liberal Protestantism in generating such group cohesion. As Bruce ( 1983 :68) puts it, “The liberal insistence on reason as filter for revelation produces a variety of problems in social reproduction. In a pluralist society, denial of an objective and unchanging source of revelation invites diversity and the consequent problems of maintaining cohesion and commitment.”

“An agreed-upon and commonly held interpretation of reality is a prerequisite for social identity. It is also the constructive link with personal identity” ( Mol, H. 1976 . Identity and the sacred:A sketch for a new social-scientific theory of religion. New York: Free Press : 67).

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2006 Michael L. Umphrey

Simple storyline of Vietnam War
     It was not caused by capitalist imperialism or anticommunist hysteria

In talking with teachers who are doing expeditions to the 1960s, I frequently encounter attitudes that were common among the youthful counterculture during the sixties and early seventies. Before embarking on studies of the War with high school students, I hope such teachers read some of the scholarship done since the end of the Cold War. I hope they don’t rely on their possibly romanticized memories of the time period.

I now believe the simple story line of our understanding of the Vietnam War goes something like this:

The leaders of democratic and capitalist nations honestly believed--from the end of World War II through the fall of Saigon--that they were engaged in a struggle against totalitarian and communist nations. They had many reasons for believing this was so: the Greek Civil War, the Berlin Blockade, the imposition of Soviet-dominated governments on unwilling nations in Eastern Europe, the Korean War, the Hungarian Revolution, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Prague Spring.

Beginning in the late 1950s, revisionist historians argued that the U.S. bore as much responsibility for the Cold War as did the Soviets, citing U.S. commitment to keeping world markets open to American trade. This view reached its peak during the Vietnam War when many viewed the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. as morally comparable empires.

The leaders of the antiwar movement went beyond all but the most extreme of revisionist historians, adopting an explicitly Marxist rhetoric and siding morally with the U.S.S.R. and Mao’s China. In the antiwar movement, “capitalism” came to be viewed as the enemy, while those who spoke against communism were viewed as unenlightened. The common propaganda of the antiwar activists was that the war was caused by capitalist imperialism. It was waged for the benefit of corporations. It was hysterical anticommunism rather than communism that was the problem.

The antiwar movement began as a pro-peace movement just as the Civil Rights movement began as a pro-justice movement. As the sixties wore on, both became dominated by activists who were increasingly anti-establishment and anti-America. The most powerful source for anti-American thought was the work of Marx and such cultural Marxists as Herbert Marcuse. Eros and Civilization became the bible of student rebels in the 60s.

This allure of the Marxist view was darkened dramatically by the publication of the first volume of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago in 1973. The book’s devastating description of the brutality of the Soviet regime’s irrational use of terror against its own people, in the form of a detailed history, conclusively undercut any moral authority sympathizers ascribed to communism. Though estimates of deaths caused by Stalin vary widely, the average numbers are that about 20 million died under his leadership. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 further discredited Marxist interpretations of history and society.

Solzhenitsyn argued that the evils of communism weren’t caused by the failings of Stalin but grew out of the ideology of Marxism itself. Solzhenitsyn prophecied that wherever communism is practiced, historians will find the same abuses that occurred in Russia.

There are two irremediable problems with Marxism. First, it is morally ungrounded. It conceives of no objective morality but draws its authority from “historic inevitability.” Thus, there is nothing to prevent leaders from rationalizing whatever they want to do. Second, it relies on force of government to distribute wealth according to government plans. This requires people to give what they have earned or made or acquired through trade to the authorities. Since peope won’t give up their possessions willingly, this always requires violence.

Jung Chang’s 2005 biography of Mao (Mao: the Unknown Story) confirms the tyrannical nature of communism in China. Drawing on 10 years of exhaustive research all over the world, Chang documents the constant purges against rivals, families, peasants, soldiers, and even lifelong allies. Mao was responsible for the death of 70 million Chinese, and his explicit goal was to “control the earth.”

The hideous slave empires of Stalin and Mao were the enemy we fought against in Vietnam, as we had in Korea. In all the complexities of what happened it seems important to keep that fact in view. The North Vietnamese were Soviet trained and Soviet armed. We know from recent access to Soviet archives that the Soviet goals in Vietnam were to support the eventual final victory of communism and to reduce the influence of the People’s Republic of China in the world communist movement. When America left, a hideous communist regime assumed power--one that between 1975 and 1979 killed about 2 million people, targeting people with western educations, people who wore glasses, Buddhist monks, and ethnic Vietnamese.

Further evidence of what was at stake is provided by the difference today between South Korea and North Korea.

Since the end of the Cold War the revisionist historians have lost sway, and the dominant view now is that of the post-revisionists such as John Gaddis (We Now Know, 1998). He debunks the myth that the West was responsible for the Cold War as ridiculous propaganda. He accepts the necessity of the Truman Doctrine. The Cold War was made necessary by Stalin’s aggression. “As long as Stalin was running the Soviet Union, a cold war was unavoidable.” Another of his conclusions: dominoes did indeed fall in East Asia--Chinese support led to communist governments in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2006 Michael L. Umphrey

Critical Placemaking Skills
     Things we should be teaching

As communities devolve into competing fiefdoms of bureaucratic programs, lobbying groups and profit-seeking businesses, the governance of schools no longer occurs in the community. It is dictated by the academic disciplines. Thus we have classes in English literature, American history, and biology, with the curriculum designed by specialists in those disciplines. What gets left out, all too often, is teaching that is drawn from the wisdom of living well. A curriculum for such teaching would not survive the committees that decide what is to be taught, since neither wisdom nor knowledge of how to live well are requirements for getting appointed to such committees.
These skills are learned by practice, which means to teach them we need to do things with young people--things that require honesty and hard thought, as well as faith, courage, and sacrifice.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2006 Michael L. Umphrey

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